West Frisco Creek

Four years ago today, I moved into my house. I wanted to make a big deal out of that anniversary, so I asked my friends to go with me on my first mountain hike since I moved back to Colorado.

My friend Elizabeth (originally from a tiny town in Australia by the name of Buxton) came along. We followed the directions of my physical therapist who’d recommended the trail, “Go to Del Norte and turn left at the car wash.” We were then on a beautiful paved road that evolved into a nice graveled road, that evolved into a nicely maintained dirt road. At the end was the trailhead.

It was my first hike on truly uneven ground with loose rocks and some ups and downs (other than daily life, I mean). It was easy. We only wanted to be gone a couple of hours and I didn’t want to undertake more than I could return from, so we ended up walking a mile up the trail and a mile back. I told Elizabeth that the end of the trail is an alpine lake — six miles up. We decided to work toward that for next summer.

It’s a perfect day, not a cloud in the sky, not much wind, comfortable temperatures. The aspen were enormous — I’ve never seen anything like that. They have grown up in groves of beetle kill pine so they haven’t had much competition. But coming up — five feet and lower — are pines, protected by the giant aspen. The light was not only impossible to photograph, but I don’t think I can describe it well. It was my first experience in a large aspen forest and it was enchanting. There are no aspen in Southern California.

Elizabeth is very active in the beautiful Gfenn-like Episcopal church in our town. I’ve visited a few times. Now she’s been with me to my church. ‚̧

 

 

P.S. Now I’ve looked on the topo map and we got the wrong trail, but there are three branches of San Francisco Creek, and we are going back. ūüôā

Heart-shaped Fruit

Obviously, I never got love right or I’d live in a bigger house with another person in it instead of a little house with two big dogs and a tiny, elusive mouse.

BUT

One winter, after a love misadventure in Italy, I ran away and went to stay with my friends who lived near Z√ľrich. I had a brokenish heart. It wasn’t decimated, but it wasn’t happy, either.** My friend’s parents had emigrated to Z√ľrich from Italy right after WW II.

Pietro started to sing before we left the house. He had a terrible singing voice, awful, but not quite as bad as mine. “Non esiste¬†l’amore. E soltanto una fragola,”¬†he sang as he put on his boots.

“Ma, Pietro, no,” said Laura, my friend’s mom. “Marta,¬†Non ascoltarlo. L’amore esiste. E non¬†√© FRAGOLA. √Č FAVOLA, sai? Story. L’amore e buono, bello. Pietro,¬†non essere cos√¨ cinico.”*¬†

Pietro winked, put his coat on, and we went out for a walk in the forest. He explained it was a joke. Fragola — strawberry sounds like favola — fable.¬†He wanted to console me. Just being there was a big consolation.

The trip to Italy had been a disaster from the get-go. Late connections. Storms in Cincinnati. A missed plane in New York. Routed through Paris. Lost luggage. No record of my being on the plane from Paris to Mila. No boarding pass. Trapped in the luggage area of Malpensa for an hour while Alitalia sorted it out. The traveling companion I’d picked up on the way to New York was a story in herself, an elderly Italian woman from Las Vegas traveling with two neatly wrapped mink coats disguised as boxes filled with jars of homemade jelly. Finally, in Genoa, I had to borrow my would-be-lover’s mother’s underwear!

When I arrived in Z√ľrich, my luggage was there (thanks to the would-be love in Italy who organized it). Each day was Swiss December sunshine. I felt I’d been meant to be in Z√ľrich in the first place.¬†I loved my friend’s family, Z√ľrich, the forest, their dog. It was really and truly ALL GOOD. It was also the last time I saw Pietro alive. He died of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma the next winter.

Looking back, I see this is a pretty romantic story and a grand adventure. Still, that fragile easily-smashed and rotted heart-shaped fruit is a pretty good metaphor for love.

 

Portofino

Portofino

 

NOTES:
*Martha, don’t listen to him. Love exists. And it’s not strawberry, it’s story, you see? Love is good, beautiful. Pietro, don’t be so cyncial.”

**And, the man in Italy and I are still connected in our own way. I ran away, other stories followed in following years, but some threads are made of tough stuff.

 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/10/20/rdp-saturday-fabulist/

Progress… and Audiences

I’ve finished (finished? ha ha ha ha) the edits on¬†The Schneebelis Go to America aka¬†The Price.¬†It’s been a long haul but I don’t think I can bitch with any justification because no one is making me do this and it’s a purely elective and rather minor activity in the grand scheme. In the scheme of my life, though, it’s pretty important, I guess.

I don’t think the book is very good, but I’ve done what I often do, I’ve gone to a self-publishing platform and I’m “publishing” one copy so I can see it as a book and do a read through in a different format than this screen or 8 1/2 x 11 pages.

I’m still not sure if I’ll go to the trouble of trying to sell it. The books I’ve already written didn’t (and don’t) sell so why would I?

Am I discouraged? No, not in the least. Since 1998 when I began writing¬†Martin of Gfenn¬†(that’s 20 years ago) I’ve gone through a very wide range of experiences as a writer. I suppose it’s a kind of maturation.¬†Martin of Gfenn is my best book, but it still has typos. The other two novels benefited from professional editing. And I consider¬†My Everest to be another thing completely.

I can’t answer for why other people write. I write because I like to, that’s the biggest thing. If it works it’s just a lot of fun. When I was teaching, writing was a thing apart from hours and hours in the classroom, and it was something at which I could succeed on some level. Teaching remained a career where I never got tenure and constantly taught part-time — not my fault, it didn’t mean I was a bad teacher, it just made more sense economically for schools to hire part-time vs. tenured faculty. That frustration and relentless impotence about my future was good training for submitting novels to agents.

But there are other audiences and different successes. A few years ago I decided I wanted my one remaining (in her right mind) aunt, the youngest of my mother’s sisters, to know who I am. I had a very intense feeling she needed to know that I was OK, that I have a good life and a little something about what I do. I sent her Martin of Gfenn¬†which she loved. I followed it with¬†Savior¬†and¬†The Brothers Path and explained that those two novels were fiction based on what I knew about my grandma’s family — my Aunt Dickie’s mother’s family. — our family. She loved¬†The Brothers Path and had her church book club read it.

Her last letter to me was March 2017, and in it, she told me how the book club had liked the book and what was going on in her life. And she asked me to keep writing the story of my grandma’s family. Whether this book is any good or not, my Aunt Dickie would have liked it. She died just before Thanksgiving last year.

 

Lamont and Dude Discuss Career Change

“I’m glad that’s over. I’m getting kind of tired of donning the Smilodon Suit every week and driving to LA. I’m thinking of quitting.”

“I saw the last video. You seemed a little off your game.”‘

“Is that supposed to be funny?”

“No, but it is funny. You want to get the girls next door and throw a few steaks on the barbie?”

“Was THAT supposed to be funny?”

“I see what you mean. But anyway, do you?”

“I just want a weekend off, you know? Hang around with no schedules and no hot smilodon suit and no little kid pulling my fake whiskers. It was hard enough being a REAL smilodon.”

“Right, what was hard about that? Top predator, yadda, yadda, yadda.”

“You’re going to have to let that go someday, Lamont. I’m sorry it was you in the tarpit, I’ve told you that a hundred times, but I didn’t know it was you, and even if I had, so what? You know it’s kill-or-be-killed out there. How many times did you kill and eat me? You don’t even know.”

“No, but I savor — ha ha — the memories of the times I remember. Maybe we should change the subject and focus on the time I was a bear and you were a beautiful salmon leaping from the mountain stream, right into my mouth.”

“It was a brief and happy life. There’s something to be said for that.”

“Not much when it comes down to it.”

“OK, but it’s good to look on the bright side.”

***

Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with a few years ago. They have the uncanny ability to remember many of their previous incarnations which gives them a unique perspective on life, the universe and everything.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/10/19/rdp-friday-week/

Conversation with PBYT.Dog

“Martha?”
“Yes, Bear.”
“When will it snow?”
“About the time you have my yard completely dug up, I think.”
“What?”
“I meant to say no one knows.”
“Last year we’d already had a blizzard.”
“I know, but it was the only real snow we had. I think that sucks.”
“We went out in it.”
“Of course we did because we’re idiots like that.”
“I love snow.”
“I love it too, Bear. It will come, sooner or later, but we live between two mountain ranges. They catch most of the storms. It’s just how it is.”
“Why don’t we move?”

~~~

PBYT.Dog = Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog

 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/10/18/rdp-thursday-blizzard/

Run, Martha! Run!

I have always been an athlete (and am striving hard now to return to that though godnose what my sport will be). I was a runner in junior high and high school, played softball, hit practice balls for my little bro’s baseball team, played field hockey. I have hiked and run thousands of miles of trails. All this took its toll on my joints, and I have had two hip replacements. I’ve been cleared by my orthopedic surgeon to run and ski, but I don’t know if I will get my mind to the place where those will happen. I hope so.

I think some people are designed so that their brain works better with hard physical exercise. I had rheumatic fever as a kid, developed a heart murmur, and while we lived in Colorado (where I was born) I wasn’t very physically active. But when we moved to sea level when I was 8, that all changed. I discovered baseball, ice skating, high-jumping and running in the forest. I felt free, strong, happy. By the time I was 13, I could hit a ball farther than anyone in my town of 10,000. I could catch anything. I could outrun everybody.

My parents didn’t encourage me — well, my dad did. He’d play catch for hours with me after he came home from work. My mom was an inanimate object who thought physical activity was bad for women. When I ran an incredibly fast 400 meters, my coach called my mom to see if she would sign a permission slip for me to go to Olympic Training Camp for the 400 meters and 400-meter hurdles. Mom refused,¬†saying¬†running would make it impossible for me to have children. I was 13! I think that was the moment I decided I’d rather die than have a baby, and I have no children. Parents who tramp on their kids’ dreams might be killing their own — my mom wanted to be a grandmother.

Back then, there was the idea, also, that sports were “masculine” and girls and women who played them were not very feminine. Sure, there were some sports that were OK for girls — tennis, figure skating, softball, gymnastics, swimming — but otherwise? It was iffy. I grew to hate the word “feminine” because it limited me. Female, OK. Feminine? No thanks. Back then, many people thought that if you were any good, you were overburdened with testosterone like a female Russian weightlifter who’s been caught juicing. Sports are gender neutral and people should do — play — what they love.

When I was a university professor, one of the high points of my time teaching was attending the Scholar Athletes Award Banquet with one of my students, a girl on the soccer team. Her boyfriend — who played on the men’s soccer team — was being honored, too. At our table were two petite young women who ran 400 meters and 400-meter hurdles. I loved that, enjoyed talking to them about their sport, and took it as a sign¬†from wherever signs come from. A gift for me. “You couldn’t have this, Martha, but these young women can.” ‚̧

The vast majority of the scholar-athletes¬†receiving awards that night (B+ GPA and above) were women. It was (surprisingly) a very emotional evening for me. I got to see the results of Title IX, the law that requires schools to put as much into women’s sports as it does into mens. On the surface it’s an equal opportunity law:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

But it opened a door that, when I was young, didn’t even exist.

Athletics programs are considered educational programs and activities. There are three basic parts of Title IX as it applies to athletics:

  1. Participation: Title IX requires that women and men be provided equitable opportunities to participate in sports. Title IX does not require institutions to offer identical sports but an equal opportunity to play;
  2. Scholarships: Title IX requires that female and male student-athletes receive athletics scholarship dollars proportional to their participation; and
  3. Other benefits: Title IX requires the equal treatment of female and male student-athletes in the provisions of: (a) equipment and supplies; (b) scheduling of games and practice times; (c) travel and daily allowance/per diem; (d) access to tutoring; (e) coaching, (f) locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities; (g) medical and training facilities and services; (h) housing and dining facilities and services; (i) publicity and promotions; (j) support services and (k) recruitment of student-athletes.

I know not everyone is designed as I am, but everyone should have the right to reach for the highest level of their abilities if they want to. My mom’s decision didn’t make me stop running and who knows? Maybe I wouldn’t have made it to the Olympic team. That I didn’t get to try is, ultimately no big deal, but the fight I had with my mom after she got off the phone with my coach was, for good or ill, a determining moment of my life.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/10/17/rdp-wednesday-sport/

My First Time

When I graduated from the University of Colorado in 1974 with a BA in English, I had the idea that the world had been waiting just for that moment, and all I had to do was walk into the local newspaper office — the Daily Camera —¬†and say, “I’m here, the reporter of your dreams.”

I’d worked on college papers, been the editorial editor of one (a column in that paper got me thrown out of that school but a good journalist doesn’t retract a valid opinion, right?), had articles published in the university paper, had even had a letter published in a national magazine. I was obviously awesome.

“Can you type?” they asked me at the¬†Daily Camera.

What did that have to do with being a reporter?

“Before we talk to you, you have to take a typing test.” The bar was low, 35 wpm, but I failed.

“Sorry, sweet cheeks,” they said and sent me packing. I think the door might have hit my butt on the way out.

But I needed a job. I was married to a student, and half our income vanished when I graduated. I got a job on the line at the Head Ski factory in Boulder. It paid $5.85/hour and we were (obviously) rolling in it.

Time passed. My husband graduated. We moved to Denver. He got a good job. I decided to go to grad school. I was lost, and I had a good project for a thesis so why not? But until school started, I was learning the meaning of “ennui.”

I responded to an ad in The Denver Post for volunteer tutors at a new program — The Adult Education Tutorial Program — that had been started by a nun and was held in an old red, sandstone¬†church a few blocks away from my house, in the Highland Park area of Denver that was — back then — considered a semi-slum.

I’d never taught anybody anything. I had a lingering dislike for teachers and teaching was for losers, not incipient famous writers such as myself. Still, it was something to do until school started.

I walked to the church, went down the stairs, opened the door and took a deep breath. My palms were sweaty and my heart was pounding. What was I doing?

“Martha? I’m Sister Mary Augustine. Thank you so much for joining us. The program is new, but we think for some adults who want to go back to school but are afraid, tutoring just might work. Here’s some paperwork for you to fill out. Your student will be here at 10:30. Our sessions are an hour long.”

I met my student, a Hispanic man in his thirties named Ram√≥n Hurtado. He lived all the way out in Fort Lupton, back then an agricultural community. I spoke a little Spanish and he spoke a high level of survival English. I asked him why he’d come to tutoring. He explained that his little girl was now in second grade, and she knew that when he read her bedtime stories, he wasn’t reading the words on the page. He was ashamed. “I didn’t go to school much,” he said. “I didn’t like it. I liked working with my family in the fields.” They had been migrant workers. “I could make money, too, and that was good.” He smiled. “But now I wish I went to school.”

We had to start at the alphabet.

We met twice a week and Ram√≥n learned fast. He had that magical quality — internal motivation — and he had a sense of humor about himself. After three months, he was reading at a third-grade level, a little ahead of his daughter. I thought a good way to end our “class” would be for us to go to the library six blocks away and get him a library card. He was so excited to have a library card! He checked out two books to read to his little girl. He hadn’t told her he couldn’t read or that he was going to school. It was his secret.

When we met for our last class meeting, he was ecstatic. He’d read her both stories.

Nothing in my life had ever made me so deeply and completely happy. My experience with Ramón showed me that I was a teacher, not a newspaper reporter. When I started grad school, I was most excited about my job as a Teaching Assistant, and I continued volunteering at the Adult Education Tutorial program. It was the beginning of my career in teaching, a career that made me happy for more than thirty-five years.

Oh and now I type 100 wpm. ūüôā

A Warm Puppy

This might be very hubristic, but here goes. I’m writing this down for myself (because I need reminding) and anyone else who’s struggling with some personal problems, the angst of our times, or the inscrutable pain of depression.

  1. Not every day is great. Most days are neither great nor lousy.
  2. Often the greatness of a day depends on a person’s outlook.
  3. Sometimes a good outlook is an act of will.
  4. If you go outside for thirty minutes and walk around, you’ll see something beautiful that will cheer you up.
  5. Change is constantly happening and often disorienting. I’m experiencing that now. Somewhere deep inside me, in a repository void of logic, I thought getting my hip fixed would transform my life. It only transformed me. Transforming my life is my business, not my surgeon’s.
  6. That serenity prayer from AA is actually pretty good. There’s a lot of stuff out there that can make us miserable but we can’t change it. We can change our perspective on it.
  7. Everyone is fucked up one way or another so compassion is important.
  8. Everyone is afraid others are judging them.
  9. Smiling at people can improve their day and yours. Where I live, an idle and obvious comment on the weather is a big part of communicating goodwill. We’re all equally subject to the vicissitudes of weather and here weather is often extreme. In CA, we commented on the traffic, Santa Anas or the surf. In China, after the Cultural Revolution, the most common greeting between friends was “Have you eaten?” because food was — and had been — scarce.
  10. Doing something for others — even a very small something like holding the door for a lady who’s taking two dogs and a big bag of dog food to the vet — can help us see where we truly are in the world.
  11. A good way to fight depression (yes, folks, I’ve suffered from it off and on since my teens) is to do one thing every day that materially improves one’s life whether it’s cleaning out the garden for winter or washing your clothes. It tells the psyche that it’s NOT impotent, but has the¬†power to improve something.
  12. Bad stuff happens. If we survive it more-or-less intact, that means we get to plant another garden, pet another dog, make another friend, smile at another stranger, look at another snowy mountain range, take another hike, write or tell another story.
  13. We lose people we love all the time. Sometimes they die, sometimes they move away, sometimes we grow apart, sometimes we don’t like each other anymore. It’s just how it is. We might miss them forever, but the good part is that we knew them, they were part of our lives for a while, and we don’t forget them. It sounds like cold-comfort but it isn’t. There’s a Brazilian Portuguese word for this emotion,¬†Saudade.¬†It means missing someone and feeling sad but, at the same time, being happy that you know them.
  14. Loneliness is a choice. My mother died of loneliness. She thought all the time about how my dad had died and she was alone. This blinded her to the love of her daughter, her sisters,¬†and her friends. Maybe nothing could make up for losing my dad, but with 20+ years left on her personal horizon, it wasn’t a very useful world view. The presence of another person cannot fix our lives. See number 3. ūüėČ

 

 

1 Bear and me at Noah's Arff

Going to the boarding kennel to see my dogs a few days after my surgery

 

 

Bearendipitous

One of the best moments of serendipity in my life (and there have been several) was that I happened to look on Facebook the very day this dog was brought into the local shelter, and, without hesitating, I contacted the shelter to meet the dog. She looked at me with my ¬†Siberian husky Lily’s blue eyes. I’d had to put Lily down only a few months before and I knew another dog would be coming into my life. When I saw this puppy, I knew I’d found my dog. I still had doubts, but…

At the shelter, I met one of the coolest young people I know. More serendipity. Brandi knew that I was Bear’s owner – though Bear was then called Silver, a good name, too — and though others came to see Bear, Brandi gave them no encouragement. “I knew she was your dog as soon as I met you,” she told me later.

 

Bear appeared to be a husky/Pyrenees mix. I didn’t know anything about livestock guardian dogs except I’d seen them working. I knew huskies were higher energy than I could deal with at that time. It turned out that Bear is an Akbash dog, a livestock guardian breed from Turkey. Livestock guardian dogs, in general, are calm, pretty low energy (they’re bred to keep sheep from going crazy which, if you know anything about sheep, is not that easy), independent, intelligent and they bond tightly to whatever they’re supposed to bond to — sheep, goats or me.

I like this dog a LOT. She’s turned out to be a good friend (for a dog). She has some odd behaviors — she hugs people, for one. She sits on her haunches and wraps her arms around people who come to my house. It’s her way to say hello rather than jumping on them. She’s pretty forceful in this demonstration of affection. She really wants my friends to feel welcome but I think sometimes they feel frightened because she’s so large. She’s very gentle and slow moving with small kids and kitties! She’s especially attentive and loving to my friend’s developmentally disabled son.

She’s a lap dog — but that’s normal behavior for her breed, too, to sit or lie on the creatures they care for. She’s openly affectionate — I’m used to Siberian Huskies who are very independent dogs, somewhat cat-like in their show of affection. For a Siberian Husky, showing love is going “hunting” with you for several hours. So having a dog who seeks and gives affection has been different.¬†Often, on a walk, Bear will stop gathering her messages and tracking animals, and snuggle up beside me so I can put my hand on her back as we walk along. She loves this and I do, too.

Before getting Bear, I’d already had, probably, 20 dogs, but never a dog like this. ‚̧

 

image

Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog

 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/10/16/rdp-tuesday-serendipity/

Weather Report

Winds in the San Luis Valley blast between the San Juans and the Sangre de Cristos. Spring winds carry newly turned soil in dust clouds from one side of the valley to the other. Winter’s bitter winds drive drifts against snow fences and mountains. Summer winds ahead of thunderstorms clear the air awakening somnolent crops. Fall winds scatter golden cottonwood and aspen leaves across a blue, blue sky. The oldest trees lean, knowing that resisting the wind is the easiest way to break.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/10/15/rdp-monday-blast/